Dec 17, 2009

Primal: A Book Review

Several weeks ago I received an invitation to review Mark Batterson's new book Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity. I was eager to get a copy of Batterson's book. If you don't know him, Mark is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC is a unique ministry that meets in movie theaters in strategic metro stops around the DC area. Batterson is a creative thinker, communicator, and writer. His previous books are In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase. He also writes a very popular blog called

I have not read Batterson's prior books, but knew some friends that enjoy them very much. I have read Batterson's blog occasionally and also have been very encouraged by his creativity in ministry and missions. As a writer, he shows an incredible passion for missions and helping NCC to be active in giving to missions. The church opened a coffeehouse named Ebeneezers in DC that donates all it's profits to missions causes.

Primal is a unique book. Batteson writes that he got the inspiration for the book by walking through the catacombs under the Church of San Clemente in Rome. His experience going through this ancient place gave him an appreciation and a passion to see Christianity return to its more "primal" roots. One great quote he said was "as I tried to absorb the significance of where I was, I couldn't help but wonder if our generation has conveniently fogotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ." He believes that we have become adept at adding layers to what it means to be a Christian and that much of modern-day Christianity resembles little what the early church lived and faced. I can certainly appreciate his feeling. Very few of us today have truly counted the cost or paid a significance price to follow Jesus. As a result, we have adopted a cheap grace and a costless religion.

Batterson structures his book around the Great Commandment. He believes the essence of Christianity is found in learning to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Batteson says that "my aim in this book is to take you to new places intellectually and spiritually so that you discover new ways of loving God." It's an admirable aim. His writing is certainly encouraging. His style is full of inspirational stories. There are many moments where I was personally challenged to have a much deeper faith. Batterson's faith is contagious and his words are challenging. The best section in the book is the last one on "The Strength of Christianity." He encourages readers to dare to dream big dreams and do big things for God. He claims that "most church problems don't come from the abundance of sin but rather from the lack of vision." He also does a good job of helping Christians to think with an "abundance mentality" and to focus on the great things that God may be calling us to do.

Overall, the book is a positive read. However, there is little doctrinal depth to the book. Few references to God's Word are employed. Batterson is one of the latest Christian authors to call us to downplay doctrine and spend more time doing stuff. Part of this probably comes from his admission that "our family went to half a dozen different churches when I was growing up, and here is what I learned: all of them get some things right, and all of them get some things wrong." While this statement is certainly true, it leaves the reader with the impression that doctrine isn't important. It's a revamping of the philosophy that "It doesn't matter what you know, it only matters what you do." However, I believe it does matter what you know. It is possible to be doctrinally sound and culturally relevant. As a matter of fact, sound doctrine doesn't downplay missions, it gives it real meaning. Right actions come from right belief. However, many of the popular pastors of our modern-day church (Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Rob Bell, Brian McClaren) have espoused a philosophy that shuns doctrine in favor of a lighter brand of Christianity that is more appealing to the culture. However, does this really help accomplish Batterson's goal of reminding us how we've "conveniently fogotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ"? Batterson attempts to tell the reader that he isn't suggesting backing off of doctrine. He says we should be passionate about the "nonnegotionables" which to him are the Diety of Christ, Christ's sinlessness, His substitutionary death, and His resurrection. Are these the only nonnegtionables? What about the exclusivity of Christ (John 14:6), or justification by faith alone (Romans 1:17)? He admits in a footnote that there are some disagreements on this. However, I believe that we have to be very careful about watering down doctrine in order to gain a hearing in the culture. After all, when you publish in writing what you believe are the nonnegtionables, you better be sure to be clear about that.

In conclusion, I was very encouraged by Batterson's book. He's an ultra-creative and vivid thinker. He has a great passion to take the gospel to the lost and to build bridges of cultural relevancy. He's put together an extremely creative church model that has taken the church to the marketplace. I hope that the longer he serves as pastor, the more he will become passionate about the whole truth of the gospel. I hope he becomes more like Mark Driscoll or Mark Dever in his approach and less like Bill Hybels or Robert Schuller. Batterson is an emerging church leader on the evangelical landscape. I look forward to see what he comes up with next.

This book was provided for review by Multinomah Publishers. You can find more about the author and other books at the Random House website.